Dušanka Sulejmalli, “Laura”, Ljubljana
Known to her familiars as ‘Duška’, in 1991 she opened her ladies fashion boutique, named after her daughter Laura – an unusual name for Slovenia. Her shop is tucked into one corner of a forecourt of an ex-petrol station – dominated by a concrete umbrella structure – off the arterial road to Kranj. From here, she dresses Ljubljana’s women in imported Italian fashions, many of whom have been loyal customers since the shop opened.
Originally from Serbia but resident in Slovenia for some 30 years, Duška learnt her trade as a travelling saleswoman for a clothing company serving all of former-Yugoslavia.
She provides a personalised styling service that aims to dress her customers well whatever the occasion, whilst trying to encourage their adventurous side: a philosophy which seems to be working well. On our first visit, we mistook a customer’s purchase of a raw silk suit combining a beige jacket printed with a cascade of pink flowers and bright fuscia trousers, as an outfit for a special occasion, for a child’s graduation, birthday, or wedding. “No, it’s for the office,” we were told.
She buys all her stock from factory showrooms near Milan, Italy. She goes monthly, or more often if stock is getting low. With her customers’ size and shape in mind, she’ll choose clothes she knows will suit them. They in turn, trust her to make them look good. On returning from Italy she will ring up certain customers and invite them to the shop to try on what she’s bought for them. She says in the future she may buy wholesale from Serbia, as the prices are better, yet the clothes are still very stylish.
Duška regularly goes for coffee with her customers, who include judges and dentists who will visit every season to update their wardrobe to retired ladies who buy every now and again. If she’s not seen a certain customer for a while, she’ll call them to see how they are. All are attracted by a range of clothes not available elsewhere in Slovenia and as such a woman dressed by Duška is more often than not dressed ‘individually’.
One particular woman brought several friends but she had first choice of what to buy and then her friends weren’t allowed to buy the same items. Others keep their visits to the boutique secret as they don’t want anyone else to be wearing the same clothes as them. Some will even lie and, if asked, say they got their clothes in Italy or Germany, in order to stop people finding out where they buy their clothes.
Complementary silk scarves are gifted to buyers of certain outfits, which Duška will slip into the bag. She also gives away around 400 umbrellas a year, as an accessory or Christmas gift. She’ll also mark a special customer’s major birthday (like 50th or 60th) with a gift.
With Duska’s help, we photographed and interviewed some of her most ardent customers about the role the shop has played in their lives.
Duska also has a son who runs a second hand car dealership based in the huge BTC shopping zone on the north-east outskirts of the city.